This superb recording by the B3:Brouwer Trio -an internationally known chamber music ensemble based in Valencia, Spain- of four works by Cuban classical music composers, spinning four centuries, four different approaches and four different styles of music creativity, splendidly fulfills the need of coming in contact with a vast, worthy and unjustifiably rather unknown body of music.
In 1998, Aurelio de la Vega wrote an essay on Cuban music for Contacto magazine. On that occasion he said: “The history of Cuban music is an intriguing, exciting and occasionally overwhelming fresco. From its nebulous origins to today's universal recognition, Cuban music has grown in stature, and its folkloric and popular aspects have progressively influenced the music-making of other cultures. After its inception in the mid-eighteenth century, and its formalization and development during the nineteenth, Cuban music first burst upon the international scene with great force in the 1920's. As with the music of other countries, Cuban music clearly offers two sides of a coin: one directly nurtured by folkloric elements and popular (and subsequently commercial) forms of expression, and another, more abstract and complex, where composers from Cuba have followed the difficult route of art music. This last form of communication, variably labeled as art music, classical music, serious music, or concert music, is the one less recognized in the international market -usually for lack of exposure- and often has been almost totally ignored by the Cubans themselves, from the writer to the laborer, from the politician to the industrialist, from the rich classes to the poor, from historians to avid lovers of popular music. In many ways, as is usually the case with countries possessing a very rich folklore (and consequently voracious producers of dance and pop vocal music), Cuban popular music has vastly overshadowed Cuban art music.” The present recording constitutes a valuable document to outbalance this fact.
“La Bella Cubana” (The Beautiful Cuban Woman) is a piece by the composer and violinist José Silvestre White (Lafitte) (1836-1918). White studied at the Paris Conservatory and was highly praised by Rossini. He was the director of the Imperial Conservatory of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His most known works are “La Bella Cubana”, which is an extended habanera, and his Violin Concerto, a remarkable piece comparable to the concertos of Tchaikovski, Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps.
“La Bella Cubana” was composed in a traditional harmonic language, with minor and major key sections. The first part, the A and B sections (both in a minor key), presents the main theme, a disconsolate, delicate and yet melancholic motive that resolves in the next sections, the C and D segments (both in a major key), where the character of the habanera is more evident and plausible, being followed by a short transition that brings back again the memoirs of the “La Bella Cubana” main theme (the A and B sections).
In the production of this piece I was worried in how to arrange it for the B3:Brouwer Trio, how to present it in a new way, how to offer the performers a more modern version of the work. That’s why my arrangement exhibits some changes from the original work, while maintaining the intention of the composer. One of the sections that I like the most is the central one. After the major key change that resolves in a minor key, I raised the music a half step up, creating a piano accompaniment that allows the violin to express again the melody (on the G and D strings). This addition creates a nice ethereal and attractive surprise. In the next part, which is the climax of the arrangement, I modified the original dynamics of the work and added a molto accelerando and a molto ritenuto indications at the end of this fragment, producing a sense of anxiety and nervousness that prepares the path to the coda.
If White’s “La Bella Cubana” stands as the first generational model of Cuban classical music in this recording, representing the second half of the XIX century, Aurelio de la Vega’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, written in La Habana in 1949, is an example of a much later lifetime of Cuban classical music.
Almost one century separates White from De la Vega, and the two composers are not only harmonically and structurally different in their handling of the music vocabulary, but they also represent two opposing aesthetic points of view. White feels compelled in “La Bella Cubana” to represent full blown musical nationalism in action –quite in contrast to his Violin Concerto’s late Romantic/European international palette. Other Cuban composers from the 1880’s to mid XX century followed the nationalistic trend, using melo-rhythms close to the Cuban folklore, Afro-Cuban rhythmic cells or Spanish/Cuban guajiro melodic twists. A few others, like Gaspar Villate (1851-1891), José Mauri (1885-1937) or Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes (1874-1944), who composed operas, followed the Italian operatic vocabulary. Later on, José Manuel “Lico” Jiménez (1851-1917) and Guillermo Tomás (1868-1933), fell under the spell of German music, composing works close to the Wagnerian-Straussian-Max Reger axis. Forty or fifty years later, Aurelio de la Vega (born in La Habana in 1925) will also embrace a Germanic, late post-romantic, highly chromatic vocabulary in his early works.
De la Vega’s Trio was composed between March and June of 1949 and premiered in Havana on April 27, 1952. Written when he was 24 years old it represents the composer’s almost obsessive non-nationalistic aesthetic creed. De la Vega’s, from his formative years on, felt that an overt nationalistic attitude was limiting, often ghetto-like, and even dangerous when carried into the political arena. The composer invariably believed that true national/musical identity should be based on the weight and merits of the artistic adventure and not in the waving of flags and slogans. De la Vega’s music will show throughout his career, and throughout his different creative stages, trace elements of Cuban rhythmic cells, melodic lyricism somewhat derived from Cuban influenced vocal lines, and a polished “general sound” akin to a sophisticated Cuban musical milieu. Even when his Trio of 1949 externally seems to be miles away from the prevalent nationalistic aesthetics of Cuban painters, composers and writers of the time, here and there (certain rhythmic activity in the first movement, the slow melodic lines of the second one, and mainly in several gestural moments of the third) one can detect and hear ambiance perfumes connecting the work to the native land of the composer.
The structural elements of the Trio are quite classical: a sonata form in the first movement, an aria following the pattern of an A-B-A’ plan in the second, and a loose rondo pattern in the third. Even in this early work one observes the very active contrapuntal lines, which are typical of this composer, his virtuosic use of the instruments and a constant motoric rhythmic pulsation. The first and third movements end with vigorous, luminous codas -the second one lyrically dissolving into the third. The overall form is light though robust, and the resulting sound spectrum is convincing and appealing.
The next two composers, Alderete and Guerra, are separate from De la Vega by almost fifty years, and both have completely different aesthetics.
Igmar Alderete (born in 1969), a Cuban composer living in Córdoba, Spain, studied violin at the Manuel Saumell School in Havana. He received harmony, musical form and counterpoint classes from Julio Roloff and Harold Gramatges. In a self taught manner he also furthered his education by taking a course in composition and harmony from the Berkeley School of Music. His style of composing always marks his roots: the rhythms and colors of Afro Cuban music.
Alderete composed the “Brouweriano Trio” back in 2005, dedicated to the B3:Brouwer Trio. The composition has four movements, formally following a classical structure. The first movement Allegro vivo, is in sonata form (A-B-A’). “From the beginning it emanates great energy, which is almost choleric, with rich rhythm variety that ranges from ancestral Afro-Cuban to modern pop rhythms gestures”, said the composer himself.
The second movement, Andante con moto, begins with a quassi continuo musical idea, first exposed by the piano and passed to the violin, incorporating thereafter beautiful and expressive musical themes that enrich it with forced lyricism. The third movement, Lento colérico, titled by the author as Intermezzo, starts with a unison between the piano and the cello, and it is a somewhat mysterious and molto espressivo section, interpolating and alternating vigorous lines with contemplative character ones that indulges in nostalgic feelings. The fourth and last movement, Presto bailable, “show a rhythmic and challenging complexity for the performers and for the joy of the listeners. It is an invitation to dance, where the popular rhythms from Cuba, the Flamenco and Rock converge”, quotes Alderete.
The last work in this album is “Ab Imo Pectore”, my first Trío, dedicated to this wonderful chamber music group that premiere it in Barcelona. When I decided to write this piece I felt challenged by the many great and magical Trios that have been written by many legendary composers. I chose a Theme with Variations and a Finale form for the work. The Introduction exposes the main motive that will be presented and modified in different ways throughout the Variations. I used my training in counterpoint and fugue techniques for the development of this work, presenting the theme in many ways. Each of the Variations has a different character, tempo, color and language, but every one of them have common elements that blend together.
I created a composition that is farther away from nationalistic rhythmic influences and is more contemporary in its harmonies than any of my previous works. Each part flies across the piece with its own language, its own freedom, yet keeping a structural coherence. I must say, however, that I use some Cuban musical elements within the work. Each Variation is developed using cells and fragments of the main theme, allowing my imagination to travel distances not explored by me before. The Finale compiles all the elements, harmonies, rhythms and cells exposed throughout the whole work, creating a climax which elevates the pitch and the intensity off the musical tapestry to its highest level.
I am very pleased with the final results of this recording. The B3:Brouwer Trio and myself did a tremendous and arduous work at the studio, with sessions that lasted sometimes for 12 hours. The dedication, sacrifice, love for music and intense collective effort has produced, in my opinion, an art quality product, full of sensivity, that will catapult even more this talented chamber music group into the international arena. Having the opportunity to work, hand in hand, with De la Vega and with Alderete made my work as a producer easier. I hope you will all enjoy, under the shadow of the Moon and the silence of the spirit, the performance of every note, cadenza and harmony embeded in this recording.
Enjoying three centuries of Cuban music and having the opportunity of presenting this recording premiere is enough motivation for expressing our gratitude, but we would like to give our heartfelt thanks to the many people that made this project come to be.
First of all, to Rycy Productions Inc. for believing in us for its second classical production, and very especially to its C.E.O. Yalil Guerra who accepted to carry our project through, becoming its mastermind. Yalil is a brilliant multifaceted person. He was in charge of the recording, edition and mastering of this CD, as wells as the production of the promotional DVDs of some of the works contained in it. He was also the arranger of "La Bella Cubana" the work with the CD’s name and the composer of Ab Imo Pectore, for whose dedication to the trio we are deeply thankful.
We would also like to express our most sincere thanks to Aurelio de la Vega, for the pleasure of sharing the precious moments of a lifetime, for the love of one’s roots and for his contagious vitality.
To Igmar Alderete, for dedicating his Trio Brouweriano to us and for sharing the exhaustive work during the rehearsal previous to the recording.
To José Amer Rodríguez, thanks to whom we had the privilege of meeting Aurelio de la Vega and his disciple Yalil Guerra. To Yalil’s family, for their hospitality and all their care during the recording process. To Chelo Estevan, for the good moments we shared during the for photo shoots, for her flexibility in letting the places find us, and for her creativity in making the most of each moment.
To Susana Milnes for her friendship, for dedicating us her time and her meticulous work, contributing with an elegant and creative vision in the process of photographic postproduction.
To Gloria Fabuel, once again, who provides us with her studio as home for our rehearsals, and allows our work to succeed.
To Carmen Estevan, who supports us without condition and has become a part of the trio’s foundation. For believing in us, for dedicating her time to us not only in this project but in each moment of our history, for making possible that our dreams come true, for her sincerity and because her opinions are a point of reflection in our lives.
To all who follow our work and encourage us to excel in every new enterprise.